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Week of 1 May 2006

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Monday, 1 May 2006
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08:45 - Netflix outdid themselves last month. They shipped me 25 discs, of which one was a replacement disc for one that didn't arrive, for a net of 24 discs for the month and a net cost per rental of $0.75. The disc I reported as lost actually did arrive. It came from Flushing, NY, and took 12 days to get here. Other than that, the USPS service was also exemplary. They got every disc to and from the Greensboro Netflix center in one day, and the discs that Netflix sent from farther away arrived in only two days.

I see that illegal aliens plan to demonstrate and strike en masse today, which would seem to be an ideal opportunity. INS, with the assistance of local and state police forces and the National Guard, should round them up, bus them to the Mexican border, and expel them. All of them.

Not that I have anything against Mexicans in particular. I'm sure that most illegal Mexican aliens are nice people, willing to work, and looking only for an opportunity. But the simple fact is that we can't afford them. They cost us more, much more, than they contribute to the economy. Every illegal alien that crosses the Rio Grande ends up costing US taxpayers thousands of dollars a year, every year. For every dollar an illegal immigrant contributes to the economy, he costs US taxpayers two or three dollars. We simply can't afford these subsidies to illegal aliens.

We don't need more poor, unskilled people in this country. We have more than enough of our own already.


Tuesday, 2 May 2006
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08:43 - The news reports all say that yesterday's strike by illegal aliens was very successful. If you believe the reports, the country was just about shut down. That's not what I saw, nor what any of my correspondents saw. Jerry Pournelle, for example, had this to say:

Today is supposed to have a demonstration of how awful life will be if all the illegal aliens take off.

In Southern California, at least, this has been a good day: the freeways were clear, the traffic was low, people were driving rationally. It took us well under 3 hours to get home from San Diego, and the radio reports tell us of freeways the way they were in the 1980's. The Macdonalds in El Toro may have been understaffed, but not greatly so.

I could live this way for a long time. The freeways were not designed to accommodate millions of illegal aliens, just as our hospital system was not designed for that kind of non-paying traffic.

Could they continue this rally for the rest of the summer?

What the illegal aliens hoped to demonstrate was that we couldn't live without them. What they in fact demonstrated is that we'd be better off without them.

The RIAA, MPAA, and network copyright pigs should learn a lesson from Napoleon's dinner plates. When Napoleon wanted to impress his guests, he served dinner on gold plates. When Napoleon really wanted to impress his guests, he served them dinner on aluminum plates. Back then, aluminum was much more costly than gold.

But things have changed, and aluminum is now commonplace and inexpensive. The same drop in value applies to the recorded music and video that the RIAA, MPAA, and television networks are still trying to hawk at pre-Internet prices. In olden days, music and video were rare commodities, tightly controlled by record companies, studios, and television networks. If you wanted to listen to music or watch a video program, you did it on their terms.

Audio tape recorders were the first crack in the dam, allowing people to record music off the air, make compilation tapes from their album collections, and otherwise have it their way. VCRs pretty much destroyed any control that networks had over television viewing, allowing people to time-shift, zap commercials, trade programs with friends, and so on. Then along came the Internet and the web, Napster, MP3s, bittorrent, CD burners, TiVo, PCs with PVR functions, DVDshrink, DVD burners, Netflix, cheap DVD recorders, and on and on.

The business models of the RIAA, MPAA, and television networks were utterly and irrevocably destroyed almost overnight. They're left wondering what happened, and their only responses have been to demand Draconian, unenforceable laws from their bought-and-paid for legislators and to use those vicious new laws to sue their customers for ridiculously large sums.

The copyright pigs are living in a dream world. Their businesses are no longer viable, as becomes more evident every day. They are dinosaurs, and extinction nears.


Wednesday, 3 May 2006
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08:42 - I'm still heads-down writing on the new computer book. Well, that and talking to vendors, trying to sweet-talk them out of samples. Pretty soon, Barbara will lose her kitchen table for the duration, as we build a bunch of new systems for the book.

14:32 -I'm going to bag Evolution. When I first looked at Evolution several years ago, I quickly decided not to use it because it was feature-poor and crash-prone. The most recent version has many more features, but it still crashes regularly for no apparent reason. I haven't lost any mail yet, but I'm afraid I will if I continue to use Evolution. Perhaps I should just set things up to use IMAP on the mail server.


Thursday, 4 May 2006
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Please give a moment's thought today to Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder. Thirty-six years ago today at Kent State University, the Ohio National Guard murdered those four students and wounded nine others. Two of those dead were merely spectators at the anti-war protest that occurred that day. The other two were minding their own business on their way to classes. No students were armed. No Guardsmen had been injured, nor were they in any danger. The Guardsmen fired randomly for 13 seconds--13 seconds--into a group of unarmed civilians, killing students as much as 700 feet away. No one has ever been brought to justice for this massacre, nor even suffered administrative discipline.

Every year on this day I observe 13 seconds of silence to remember what happened that day, and to remind myself that no government can ever be trusted with the freedom of its citizens, or indeed their very lives.

10:03 - Howard Kaikow posted a link to this article over on the HardwareGuys.com Forums. I'd read the article when it was originally posted five years ago, but it's worth reading again. The article discusses the phenomenon of aliteracy, those who can read but don't.

Ultimately, there's little difference between an illiterate person and an aliterate person, so the fight against aliteracy is as important as the fight against illiteracy. I confess that I hadn't noticed this phenomenon before I read the article. When Barbara and I visit friends, books are always prominent in their homes, so I assumed at least tacitly that everyone read even though I must have known that wasn't true.

Fortunately, aliteracy is easy to fight. Some people will never voluntarily read a book, of course, so the trick is to find potential readers and get them to start reading for fun. And the best source of potential readers is our children. With the pressure of NCLB and other laws that encourage schools to teach for success on standardized tests, our schools are teaching the wrong lesson. Students are overwhelmed with required reading, most of which is boring and useless. Naturally enough, many of these kids begin to think of reading as hard work with few rewards.

The best way to encourage kids to become readers is to give them books that are fun to read. The other day as I was scanning the bookshelves in Barbara's office, looking for something to read, I thought about Jasmine, the daughter of one of our neighbors. Jasmine is about to turn 13 years old. She's a good kid, polite and studious. She's interested in science. School lets out soon for the summer vacation, so I decided to pull a few books off the shelf and give them to Jasmine.

My first thought was to grab a bunch of Heinlein juvenile paperbacks, but then I thought about what my friend Mary Chervenak had said about Heinlein. I was shocked when Mary told me that she disliked Heinlein for his sexism. I had always considered Heinlein to be one of the good guys in that respect. Heinlein wrote strong female lead characters at a time when few other novelists featured women in anything other than secondary roles. But Mary had a point, and convinced me. Heinlein saw the primary role of women as bearing and nurturing babies. While I understand and agree with him from a purely biological perspective, I also understood Mary's point. So I decided to look around some more.

What I came up with for Jasmine was two of the early books in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vor Saga, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Bujold writes strong female characters with no hint of sexism, but, just as important, she writes books that are fun to read. Jasmine would probably have become a pleasure reader in any case, but it never hurts to encourage kids to learn that reading can be fun. I think she'll like Bujold.


Friday, 5 May 2006
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08:23 - I did another interview with John Iasiuolo on the Computer Outlook Radio Talk Show last night. We had a good time, as usual. In fact, we had such a good time that after the first ten minutes or so John forgot to take any more commercial breaks, so we ended up talking uninterrupted for the rest of the hour. If you want to listen to the show, check this page. John posts past shows in his archives, usually within a couple days of the air date.

I'm still working on chapters for the new edition of Building the Perfect PC. Ordinarily, I'd be interleaving work, writing chapters as I actually built and photographed the systems in question. This time, I'm writing the narrative before I actually have the components in hand to build the systems. I'm doing that because a lot of the stuff I plan to use isn't actually available yet, notably Intel's new Conroe processor and the new Socket AM2 AMD processors. It's harder to work this way, but the upside is that when the book hits the bookstores it'll be as current as possible and is likely to have a much longer shelf life before it becomes obsolete. The downside, of course, is that I may end up holding an empty bag if products are delayed long enough that I can't make deadline. In that case, I'll be scrambling to substitute available components for those I'm unable to obtain in time for deadline.


Saturday, 6 May 2006
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09:50 - I've noticed a flood of articles like this one lately, about the Feds insisting that measures be taken to allow them to intercept VoIP telephone calls. As I read each article, I wonder what the point is. Products like Zfone make it trivially easy to encrypt VoIP calls right now. The VoIP Security Alliance is working toward VoIP security standards that will be incorporated into router hardware and SIP phone sets.

The VoIP encryption folks aren't making the same mistakes that were made with respect to encrypting email. VoIP encryption will be transparent and ubiquitous. People will use it by default.

The Feds won't even have the red envelope advantage. I used to explain one of the weaknesses of encrypted email by comparing encrypted emails to a regular snailmail message in a red envelope. If the overwhelming majority of mail was contained in white (unencrypted) envelopes, the rare red envelope would be a strong indication that the message might be of more than ordinary interest, allowing the Feds to concentrate their decryption efforts on a very small subset of the whole. But if VoIP encryption becomes the norm, as I expect it will, red envelopes will become commonplace, and eventually white envelopes will become rare.

So what's the point of these attempts to force ISPs and other infrastructure providers to guarantee the Feds access to these encrypted VoIP streams? Is the government stupid, or am I missing something ominous?

14:10 - Fred Reed has posted an article that shows scans of a couple pages of his step-daughter's 8th-grade math and science books, with Fred's translations from Spanish to English.

Thinking back to when I was in 8th grade, in 1967, the math example (basic probability) seems of about the difficulty level of the courses that were taught back then to students in the average academic track. (We had nine tracks. Those in the brightest group, Track 9, took Algebra II and basic plane geometry in 8th grade, with more plane geometry, as well as solid geometry and trigonometry in 9th and 10th grades.)

The science example, on the other hand, seems more difficult than our science courses for 8th graders. We had two full years of biology available (as well as two years of physics and three of chemistry), but those courses did not start until 10th grade, our first year of high school. Material of the difficulty level Fred shows would have been considered 10th grade material.

I wonder how this material compares in difficulty to what bright American kids do in American schools today.


Sunday, 7 May 2006
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